Threadsteading is a strategy game about quilting, or perhaps more accurately, a strategy game that is quilting. Controlled by a quilting machine (or an embroidery machine in its portable form), Threadsteading is a two-player competitive game. In it, the players try to nab territories on a hexagonal grid, using a similar-shaped button-module to dictate the direction the player will guide the thread that the machine sews. The game was initially developed during a game jam at Disney Research Pittsburgh, the project helmed by Gillian Smith, alongside team members April Grow, Chenxi Liu, Lea Albaugh, Jen Mankoff, and Jim McCann.
The quilting machine version of Threadsteading is massive—with a 13-foot wide arm to sew. For practical travelling purposes, the Disney Research team opted to create a smaller, more portable version of the game, programming similar gameplay into an embroidery machine. At alt.ctrl.GDC this year, an area on the annual Game Developer’s Conference dedicated to celebrating alternative controllers and ways of play, the embroidery machine version of Threadsteading was on display in its playable form.
For the territory-control gameplay itself, a hexagonal grid printed on cloth is used as a board within the machine. As players direct the the thread using the button module (a different pattern for each player is used for both players), they try to nab any of the six pink “town” squares across the map. Different colors of terrain use up different energy per turn, and the player only has four energy to use. At the end of the game, the machine itself tallies up the score per player and sews it onto the board.
Inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, a 68-meter-long embroidered cloth depicting history up until the Norman Conquest of England, Threadsteading is an interesting and fun experiment in alternative ways of play—and in breaking gendered activities. In an interview with Gamasutra, Gillian Smith explained, “Gaming is a lot more balanced in the gender of participants, but societally still seen as quite masculine. So some of our interest is also in juxtaposing these two differently gendered activities.”
Photos and gif by Caty McCarthy